Three ways to see bodhicitta in terms of dependent arising
Three ways to see bodhicitta in terms of dependent arising
This talk was given at Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington.
- Using dependent arising to dispel obstacles to the cultivation of bodhicitta
- Dependent arising based upon parts
- Dependent arising based upon the mind that conceives and labels
- Using syllogisms for dispelling obstacles to bodhicitta
We could all be doing something else now—we could be on vacation, on holiday, eating good food, walking in nature, laying on the beach. But instead we chose to come here and specifically we chose to come to a Dharma teaching. So we had to give something up for the Dharma just to be here. We might think that what we’re giving up for the Dharma is pleasure, because we could have been having all these wonderful sense experiences right now, even sleeping in. We think, “Oh! I gave up all that pleasure for the Dharma!” But in actual fact, what we are giving up is suffering. Those experiences done out of attachment bring some level of temporary pleasure, but themselves are not in the nature of happiness. Also the mind of attachment that does them is a mind that creates negative karma. So by not doing those things we’re giving up their suffering result. By choosing to come to the Dharma and learn about the path to enlightenment we are definitely giving up suffering and its causes.
When we think of giving something up for the Dharma, instead of thinking that we’re giving up happiness for the Dharma, we should understand it correctly and see that we’re giving up suffering. That way we really see the Dharma as our best friend, as our real refuge, as the thing that is going to help our mind the most. When we have that kind of perspective, then practice becomes much easier.
The chief thing we want to practice to develop is this altruistic intention, aspiring for full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Let’s generate that supreme motivation and give up some suffering in order to actualize that motivation. [bell rings]
Do you ever think of yourself as giving up suffering for the sake of coming to Dharma teachings and retreat? We don’t. We usually think that we give up pleasure, don’t we? But if you think about it, aren’t we giving up suffering to come to the Dharma? We’re not giving up pleasure. We’re not giving up happiness. We’re giving up suffering. Yes? So I think that’s important to remember, you know, when the mind goes “Oh, we have to go to teachings,” to remember that we’re giving up suffering.
Using dependent arising to dispel obstacles to the cultivation of bodhicitta
You asked me to talk about dependent arising. There’s one talk on dependent arising on the website. I gave it at Sakya Monastery [in Seattle] a couple months ago. Then I was thinking last night about other ways to look at dependent arising—how dependent arising and understanding of dependent arising can help our bodhicitta practice. What’s the relationship between bodhicitta practice and dependent arising. I was thinking, “Okay, one of the chief elements for developing bodhicitta is to see the kindness of sentient beings.” To see the kindness of sentient beings involves some understanding of dependent arising, because we go back and we trace: Everything we’ve received in this life—our possessions, our education, even our body, all of our knowledge, all of our skills and talents, everything that we’ve received this lifetime has come from sentient beings. So it’s dependent on sentient beings, isn’t it? What we are, our abilities, our possessions, everything did not arise without causes; they didn’t arise out of nowhere. They came from causes and conditions—and one of the very important conditions was sentient beings. Don’t you think? Yes? We all have this mind of, “Well, I’m competent and I go to my job and I can make things move in my own little world.” Well, who gave us the education to be able to do that? Our education arose in dependence upon sentient beings. Our ability to speak didn’t arise by itself. It’s a dependent arising. It arose due to the kindness of our parents and siblings and all the people who went goo-goo, ga-ga to us so that we could figure out how to say goo-goo, ga-ga back. Okay?
You know just the ability to speak and understand language that we use every day—we take so much for granted. It’s a dependent arising, dependent on other sentient beings. We didn’t teach ourselves. We weren’t born naturally with the ability to speak. It was learned. It came due to others. All of our possessions, everything we have, came due to others. When you live here at the Abbey you really feel that, because you see this Abbey as not mine. It exists for the enjoyment of all sentient beings, for the benefit of all sentient beings. And it arose due to the generosity of so many sentient beings who gave their resources, who gave their time, who came here and volunteered and did various things. So the existence of the Abbey is a dependent arising. Our lunch is a dependent arising. It depends not only on the cooks and the people who grew the food, but also people who made the oven, the people who made the stove. Do we ever think of them—how about the people who made the refrigerator?
If we just think of how our entire ability to stay alive depends on sentient beings, we see that that’s dependent arising. We’re really seeing that causal relationship—and having a sense of gratitude to sentient beings for it. And that’s something very important. The more we train our mind to have that as our view on the world, our world-view, how we position ourselves in the world. Does that make sense? How we see ourselves in the world. If we see all of our abilities, and all of our happiness as a dependent arising, dependent on sentient beings, then our whole perspective changes. And then we see sentient beings as lovable. We see sentient beings as kind. We want to do something for them in return.
Another way that our happiness depends on sentient beings is our enlightenment is completely dependent on sentient beings. You might say, “My enlightenment is not dependent on sentient beings! I’m doing it for them! They should thank me! Yes. Yes. Their happiness is dependent on me, because I’m working so hard for them to become enlightened—doing all this hard work every day, sitting on this cushion.” Actually, our own ability to attain enlightenment is due to sentient beings. Why? This is because to become a fully enlightened Buddha we need to generate the bodhicitta. It’s impossible to become a Buddha without bodhicitta—totally impossible. There is no way around it. Nobody you can bribe. Nobody you can negotiate with. Nobody you can do a favor for to get to enlightenment without bodhicitta. It doesn’t work. You have to have bodhicitta.
Our generation of bodhicitta is totally dependent on sentient beings. Bodhicitta is that primary mind aspiring for full enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Without all sentient beings being included in our realm of altruistic intention, if we leave one sentient being out? No enlightenment. So that means that, you see that spider on the floor? That one right there? Our enlightenment is completely dependent upon that spider. Yes? If we don’t generate great love and great compassion towards that spider, our whole enlightenment is filibustered—impossible. We are completely dependent upon that spider to become a Buddha. Think about it.
When we generate bodhicitta, it’s not some abstract all sentient beings, you know, all those ones far away that are so pitiable that don’t disturb us. The ones we really have to consider are all those sentient beings who disturb us. All those sentient beings we come in contact with. So our enlightenment is dependent on that spider. Our enlightenment is dependent on Achala and Manjushri, our kitties—without great love and great compassion and the altruistic intention regarding them there’s no enlightenment. We see so many bugs flying around here. Our enlightenment is dependent upon each of them.
Last night we were talking a little bit about politics. Our enlightenment is dependent upon all those people. We cannot attain full enlightenment without great love and great compassion for … fill in the names. Our enlightenment is dependent upon them.
When we train our mind to see sentient beings in that way, this is another dependent arising in relationship to sentient beings. Then our whole way of looking at sentient beings completely changes, like, “Wow! My enlightenment is dependent on that one.” Incredible! Absolutely incredible! And that sentient being, that spider, has been my mother in a previous life.
No, leave him [the spider] in so he hears the teachings.
Audience: I just don’t want people to forget and step on him.
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): We’ll take him out at the end of teachings. He has some good karma right now. He can hear. So, we appreciate you—but next life don’t get arrogant about it.
Our enlightenment is dependent upon that spider. There are probably some other spiders and other bugs and flies. Who knows what other kind of living beings are in this meditation hall, let alone on the land. Just seeing how interrelated we are. How our bliss and joy of highest, fullest enlightenment of overcoming all obstacles, all sufferings, forever, in a way that they never return—is completely dependent on that spider, completely dependent upon Saddam Hussein. Okay? Completely dependent upon … fill in the blank from your own life, of a person that you have difficulty with. When we train our mind in that perspective then how we relate to sentient beings really changes. We see how all our bliss and joy comes from them.
That’s one way of seeing bodhicitta in terms of dependent arising—and there I was talking specifically of the dependent arising of causes and conditions. We often speak of three types of dependent arising: dependent on causes and conditions, dependent upon parts, and dependent on being conceived and labeled by mind. So what I just talked of there was more seeing sentient beings as the causes and conditions of our bodhicitta, the causes and conditions of our happiness, of full enlightenment.
Dependent arising based upon parts
Now in terms of dependent arising as parts, another way that that dependent arising can be used to advance the development of bodhicitta in our heart and mind is this. The biggest enemy of bodhicitta is anger. This is because to have bodhicitta, you have to have great love and great compassion. You have to see sentient beings as lovable. When you’re mad at them, you don’t see them as lovable. You see them as the opposite. So anger is the biggest obstacle, one of them—there’s more than one biggest by the way. Self-centered thought is also a big obstacle. But anger and self-centered thought are kind of intermeshed and intertwined. So we’re not leaving one out by mentioning the other. But anger is a huge obstacle to bodhicitta.
What is an antidote to that anger that prevents us from generating bodhicitta, which prevents us from attaining the highest bliss and enlightenment and compassion and skill of Buddhahood? An antidote to that is to ask, “Who is that sentient being that I’m angry at?” When we look at a sentient being, a sentient being is designated in dependence upon the body and the mind. The body and the mind are like the parts of the sentient being. Yes? The table is designated on its parts: the legs, and the top, and the paint, and the nails, and things—all those parts. Sentient beings are designated in relationship to their parts—the body and the mind.
Now when we’re angry, if we start searching in the parts of a sentient being, to find what part of, you know—who’s the sentient being we’re angry at? What part of that sentient being are we angry at? Can we find it? Let’s say that kind mother sentient being, that spider comes and bites you on your ankle. You know how spider bites itch and itch and that. [Laughter] So you have great suffering due to the itchiness of this one spider bite—it gives you something to talk about for a couple of days. In case you lack anything else to feel sorry about for those few days, it gives you something to feel sorry for yourself about. Okay. We’re mad at the spider for biting us on the ankle and causing this little itchy bite.
What are we mad at? Who’s the spider? Are we mad at its body? Are we mad at its mind? If you have just the body of that spider, it’s just sitting there, body, no mind. A couple of legs, I think they have six legs, don’t they? I forget my…
VTC: Eight—I told you I forgot my elementary school biology—eight legs.
Just that body, just that arrangement of atoms and molecules, are you mad at that? Are you mad at their body? If you just had the corpse of the spider, would you be mad at it? Are you mad at the mind of the spider? Yes, that spider has some consciousness there; it’s listening to the Dharma right now. Are you mad at his consciousness? When we start to look at us sentient beings, at a sentient being and its parts, and ask our self who we’re mad at and which part, yes, we see a sentient being as dependently arising based on its parts. But we can’t find a sentient being that we’re really mad at, can we?
Or think of a person that you’re mad at, shouldn’t be too hard. [Laughter] We have one of those files, undeletable files, one of those “read only” files that you keep trying to delete from the CD and it never deletes but you want to get rid of it? But this one you can also add to—so you can add on enemies to this file. We’re holding tightly onto this file of all the people who’ve ever harmed us, all the people who we don’t like. We have the “people who gave me dirty looks” category, the “people who talked about me behind my back” category, the “people who betrayed my trust” category, the “people who bossed me around” category, the “people who beat me up” category. I mean, we have it all, we’re disorganized in our life, but when we keep track of our enemies we’re very organized! And the Excel spreadsheet is very nicely done, you know! With the names going down this way, and then the categories going across this way, of all the harms they’ve done to us. Some people, they’re mentioned in the “talk behind my back” category, and then the “betrayed my trust” category. We have all our little categories so we’re very organized, this data is well kept.
So when we start looking at what sentient being is it that we’re mad at—think somebody that you don’t like, somebody that you’re angry at, somebody that really bugs you. Then, are you mad at their body? Are you mad at their mind? Exactly who are you mad at? What part of them harmed you? Let’s say somebody said something to you that you didn’t like hearing. The sound, the words, that’s sound waves, right? Just sound waves, going out there, that’s all it is. Are you mad at their body? Are you mad at the vocal cords that made the sound waves?
You’re mad at their vocal cords? [Ven. Chodron is directing this question to someone in the audience] [Laughter] Okay, just remember that next time, Kath. Somebody says something you don’t like just don’t pay attention to them. Just pay attention to their vocal cords.
But think about it, are we usually mad at their vocal cords? Do you look at their vocal cords and say, “I hate you!” Yes? Are you mad at the lungs, from where the air came and went through the vocal cords? Are you mad at the mouth and the lips that make the shape that form the words? Are you mad at the sound waves? Is there any part of their body that you’re mad at? What about their mind? Are you mad at their mind—visual consciousness that sees color and shape? Are you mad at their visual consciousness? Are you mad at their olfactory consciousness that smells things?
Are you mad at their mental consciousness? Which mental consciousness are you mad at? You’re mad at the mental consciousness that’s sleeping? You’re mad at the mental consciousness that had that bad intention to hurt you? How do you know they had a bad intention to hurt you? Maybe they didn’t. Maybe there was no bad intention there and you’re imputing one. Even if they had a bad intention and wanted to hurt you, are you mad at their mental consciousness? Are you mad at that thought? Can you find that thought—to point a finger at that thought? “I hate your thought! Get rid of that thought!” And they say, “Well, I don’t have it anymore.” That thought went out of existence before. The thought that was the thought to hurt our feelings doesn’t exist right now. It was a phenomenon that passed. Where is that past thought of theirs in their mind that you can be mad at?
Which part of that thought are you mad at? Because the thought isn’t a single solitary thing; there’s a primary consciousness, in this case the mental consciousness. Then you have the five omnipresent mental factors together with that thought, don’t you? So you have feeling, and contact, and discrimination, and intention, and attention. You’re mad at one of those mental factors? There’s that one little mental factor. Are you mad at it? Are you mad at the mental factor of anger that happened to pop up at that moment for fifteen seconds? You know? What part of their mind are you mad at?
When we start to do this kind of examination and try to find the sentient being that we’re angry at, the sentient being that we don’t want to benefit, we can’t find it, can we? We can’t isolate exactly what it is that we’re mad at. So when we see a sentient being as dependently arising on their parts in this way, dependent on their body and mind. Their body dependent on parts, their mind dependent on different parts and aspects of the mind, then we can’t find any sentient being to be mad at. Then the anger goes down. And that anger can’t interfere with our development of bodhicitta.
The second kind of dependent arising, seeing things as dependent on its parts, then when we cultivate that and look for the sentient being that we’re mad at, we can’t find the part that we’re mad at. The anger decreases. That decreasing of the anger increases our ability to generate bodhicitta. So that’s another way to use an understanding of dependent arising to help you generate bodhicitta.
Dependent arising based upon the mind that conceives and labels
Now let’s look at the third kind of dependent arising, dependent on the mind that conceives and then the label—because things exist by being merely labeled in dependence upon the mind. Another factor that really impedes our development of bodhicitta and thus impedes our enlightenment is discouragement/self-judgment/low self-esteem. They become big obstacles. When we’re constantly focusing on judging ourselves, feeling like we’re failures, all that kind of self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is because when we think that we’re incapable like that, then we don’t try. Then, of course, enlightenment is out of our reach because we don’t try. Not because we’re actually incapable but because we think we are. So this discouragement on the path is a big obstacle.
Now how do we use understanding that things arise dependent on mind and term, how do we use that to overcome this sense of failure or discouragement or low self-esteem? Well, one way is to ask ourselves, “Who is the person? Who am I that is the failure? Who’s the I that is so incompetent? Who’s the I that I’m judging? Who’s the I that’s doing the judging and who’s the I that’s being judged?” These things, when we’re doing our low self-esteem trip and we’re so involved with self-judgment, it feels like there’s a real I there. We think that there’s a real me sitting here who blew it, who always blows it, who’s a failure, who doesn’t have the Buddha potential. Like, “Everyone else does except me. I’m the only one born without the Buddha potential. You see, I really am special. [Laughter] I’m the only one who can’t become a Buddha because I’m so helpless.”
We feel like there’s a real I that exists at that time. Yes? Well, let’s look for it. Who is that I? Who is that I that’s so incompetent, that’s so insecure, that’s so unlovable, that’s such a big failure that, all this kind of stuff. Look for that I.
If we start looking, again we start going through the parts, through the body and mind—our own body and mind this time. Look for the person who’s so hopeless, or look even for the trait that we’re attributing to ourselves. Like when we say, “I’m a failure,” you know that one? “I’m a failure.” Well, what is failure? We feel so strongly that when we say, “I’m a failure,” there’s a real I and there’s a real failure, isn’t there? Yes, when we feel that way, there’s a real I and there’s real failure, and they are union, oneness—inseparable!
What is failure? Let’s look at this thing. You know, we say, “I’m a failure.” We feel so strongly. Okay then, what is a “failure”? Think about it. We use that word—what does it mean? On what basis are we giving that label “failure”? Think of a situation in which you said to yourself, “I’ve failed,” or “I messed up.” If you don’t like the word failed, used messed up. “I messed up really badly; I botched the situation.” What does “botched the situation” mean? What does “messed up badly” mean? On what basis are you giving that label? Does there exist some thing out there that is failure that you can draw a circle around? Or is there a “messed-up-badly” that you can draw a circle around? Is there something that you can grab onto and say that’s what it is? No? Can you find something? What are you going to find? You look, what’re you going to find?
Using syllogisms for dispelling obstacles to bodhicitta
You say, “Ah! I forgot to balance the checkbook; therefore, I’m a failure.” First of all, just on conventional terms does that make any sense? If you make a syllogism, let’s use the syllogisms. “I” is the subject, “am a failure” is the predicate, “because I forgot to balance the checkbook” [which is the reason]. Then you do the agreement part of the syllogism: “I” and “forgot to balance the checkbook”, that’s true. But the pervasion, “if you forget to balance the checkbook, you’re a failure,” is that true? Not true, is it? We’re not a failure because we forgot to balance the checkbook.
Oh, this is a very good way to teach you the syllogism we use in the philosophical studies! Instead of, “Sound is impermanent because it’s the product of causes,” let’s use “I’m a failure because I didn’t balance a checkbook,” or “I’m a failure because I forgot to do this phone call,” or “I’m a failure because I didn’t get this done on time,” or “I’m a failure because the toast burned,”—whatever it is, whatever syllogism we use. This is what we should use to learn! We’ve got to tell Dharmakirti he has to rewrite the text on learning logic. Let’s use some hands-on syllogisms there. When we start to look at it this way, we see what we’re thinking is completely ridiculous. And what is this failure, what is this messed up badly? Is it something hard and concrete? Can you draw a line around it and say, “That’s me”?
Or we say, “I am unlovable.” So let’s make a syllogism: “I am unlovable because I have negative thoughts.” We’ve all had that syllogism in our mind, haven’t we? I am unlovable because I have negative thoughts. The agreement “I have negative thoughts,” yes, that’s true. [Then regarding the pervasion:] If you have negative thoughts, are you unlovable? Are you telling the Buddha that he’s absolutely nuts for loving you? Are you telling the Buddha that he’s wrong? Can you look the Buddha in the eye and say, “Buddha, you’re full of beep-beep-beep because you think I’m lovable?” Are you criticizing the Buddha? Be careful here! And what’s this unlovable? What’s unlovable? Can you draw a circle around “unlovable,” this unlovable that you think you are? Just that sentence, “I am unlovable.” If you look for the unlovable, you can’t find it, can you? If you look for the I that is it in the body and mind, what part are you labeling unlovable? Your little toe? Your auditory consciousness?
When we start to look, it becomes completely ridiculous, doesn’t it? And so what we begin to come to at that time is that things exist by being merely labeled. So this I that we feel is an inherently existent I—there’s no inherently existent I, but there is a conventional I. There’s no I that is inherently unlovable or a failure or whatever that is. But there is a conventionally existent I that exists dependent upon causes and conditions, and parts, and being labeled, and things like that. So you can’t find an I that’s inherently ridiculous or stupid or whatever we say. We can’t find that inherently existent I. But there is an I that exists by being merely labeled—but you can’t find it.
That merely labeled I is the one that generates bodhicitta. That merely labeled I is the one that goes on to enlightenment. You can’t find it when you look for it. When you analyze, you can’t find that I that’s going to become a Buddha. But you can’t say it’s nonexistent either just because you can’t find it when you analyze. Okay? There’s an I that goes on to enlightenment, but it’s totally unfindable when we analyze. But it goes on to enlightenment, it generates bodhicitta, it exists.
You see when we do this kind of analysis and we see dependent arising in terms of things exist dependent on the mind that conceives of them and labels them. When we understand that level of dependent arising, we see that there’s no failure—no inherently existent failure, no inherently existent unlovable-ness, no inherently existent discouragement. Like, “I can’t practice the path because of blah, blah, blah,”—none of those things have any valid basis for existence. This is because our whole way, when we say, “I am unlovable, I am hopeless, I am this,” we’re thinking totally in terms of inherent existence. When we negate the inherent existence of those things—just forget them, they’re not there. There’s no basis on which to give that label. And then when we look at the I that we’re attributing all these qualities to, we can’t find that I either. Because when we have all that negative self-talk and self-judgment, it’s all done in terms of an inherently existent I.
So you see, seeing things as dependent on the mind that conceives and labels them helps us to get rid of the discouragement that is a hindrance to generating bodhicitta. That’s another way in which using an understanding of dependent arising can help us develop bodhicitta.
Now, we have a little bit of time. Let’s just review those. There are a lot of other ways. These are just three ways that I thought of, three examples, but it’s enough to think about.
When you see dependent arising in terms of causes and conditions, then we see sentient beings as lovable. Because we see how everything we know and have—everything, including our enlightenment—is dependent upon them. When we see things as dependent upon parts, then we see that there’s no person there to get angry at. So then we let go of the anger that destroys our bodhicitta. When we understand dependent arising in terms of things existing by being merely labeled, depending on term and concept, then we can free ourselves from the discouragement that we often fall prey to or are plagued by on the bodhisattva path. This is because we realize that there’s no inherently existent I who has any of these inherently existent negative attributes.
Now, maybe some questions.
Audience: I love that bringing in the syllogism of when you see, as they call it, the major premise. You see how ridiculous it is: “All people who burn the toast are terrible people.”
VTC: You know, I mean, the “logic” (quote quote) with which our mind thinks is really … it’s laughable, isn’t it? It’s laughable.
Audience: Would you repeat the terms, the ones that make up the syllogism?
VTC: Okay. The syllogism: The thing that you’re talking about is the subject. I is the subject. “Am unlovable” is the predicate. “I am unlovable” is the thesis. In, “I am unlovable because I have negative thoughts,” the “negative thoughts,” is the mark, or the sign, or the reason.
To have a perfect syllogism, you need three qualities. They’re called the three factors or three modes. So there has to be agreement between the subject and the sign. In this case it would be “I have negative thoughts.” [This is also often called the presence of the reason in the subject.] Then there has to be the forward pervasion, which means that: If it is the sign, then it must be the predicate. So, “If someone has negative thoughts, then they must be unlovable.” Okay? So we see in that syllogism there’s no pervasion. It doesn’t pervade that if you have negative thoughts, you’re unlovable. Then the counter-pervasion is: If it’s the opposite of the predicate then it’s the opposite of the sign. So that would mean, “If it is lovable, it must not have negative thoughts” which means in order to love somebody they must not have negative thoughts. Nobody would ever get married in that case. Nobody would ever love their kids in that case. It’s a good way to teach logic, isn’t it?
Audience 1: Part of your example is based on the absurdity of the thought of burning toast makes you unlovable. But what if you said instead of “I’m unlovable because I burned the toast,” what if you said, “I’m unlovable because I burn babies,” then most people would say, “Yes!” So?
VTC: But think about it—is somebody unlovable if they burn a baby?
Audience 1: They would be for me.
VTC: They’re totally unlovable? That means before they burn the baby, they’re also unlovable? It means in their future lives they’re also unlovable. They burn a baby this lifetime that means you can’t love them in a future lifetime? Then you’re not going to love anybody, because we’ve all burned babies in previous lives. You’re going, “Yikes, I burned a baby?!” I mean, we’ve done everything in samsara.
Audience 2: I think you just tromped everything.
Audience 1: I mean that’s where we have to go—to leave the judgmental state we have to bring the fact in that we’re all the same.
VTC: Yes. And not only do we have to bring in the fact that we’re all the same, but that the person and the action are different. The person and the action are different. The action can be a negative action—the person can’t be negative. Why? It’s because they have the Buddha potential. So then, if you say, “That person is unlovable because they burn babies,” then you also have to say, “They have no Buddha potential.” Can you say that? No.
Audience 3: Do we also think this way because of the distortion of permanence?
VTC: Yes. Very much.
Audience 3: We’re always like, without analysis, we just make it like an everlasting…
VTC: Right. Something that somebody did at one time, in one lifetime, colors everything. But why are we thinking that thing? That person also in their lifetime may have made offerings to a Buddha or helped a Buddha. Then do we generalize and say, “They’re totally lovable forever,” because they made an offering to the Buddha?
Audience 4: I think we can use that logic to our convenience. I mean, I use that logic to my convenience. So something that I want to make impermanent but in the next thing it’s not being trustful for somebody else. It’s like, “I trust you now,” but I can’t trust them in the next moment—so I make it solid and permanent for the things that fit. But then I may go, “Of course, this can’t stay this way, they’ll change to the things that I don’t want.”
VTC: Yes. I mean, we manipulate our logic completely according to our mood.
Audience 2: There are actually studies done on that—where when people agree with the conclusion, they don’t see the fallacy. But if they disagree with the conclusion, they pick it right up.
VTC: It’s like, “I love that person because they’re nice to me.” That person’s nice to me. If someone’s nice to me, then I love them. Is that true? Do we love all the people who are nice to us? So many people are nice to us! We don’t care beans about them! We should go around; we could go around to all those other people—or no, we should go around and say to ourselves, “That person is lovable because they’re nice to me, and that person’s lovable because they’re nice to me, and that person’s lovable because they’re nice to me. That person who burned the babies is lovable because they’re nice to me.” Yes. Oh, lots of people love people who burn babies, don’t they? Yes. I mean, we really have to differentiate between the person and the action. They’re quite different things.
Audience: You were saying, “Who is the I that feels so helpless?” And we couldn’t find the I. And the I that burned the toast, we really can’t find that I either?
VTC: Yes, you can’t find the I that burnt the toast. There’s no solid I there that burnt the toast.
Audience: So there’s really no subject?
VTC: There’s no inherently existent subject. When it comes down to it if somebody says, “Who burnt the toast?” you could say, you know, Harry or Jo Marie. You can say that. But there’s no existent Harry-ness or Jo Marie.
Audience: I made the whole thing up!
VTC: Yes. I mean, on a conventional level there was somebody who spaced out about the toast. But on an ultimate level, there’s no person there that burnt it. And certainly nobody has the motivation, “I’m going to burn the toast.”
You know what I find so interesting about anger is when we’re mad at somebody, you know, “They did this action to me.” We always attribute a negative motivation to them—as if because they had a negative motivation, therefore my anger’s justified. Now is that logical?
First of all, we don’t know if they had a negative motivation. So first of all, we have no idea if they did. Often it’s just a misunderstanding. But even if they did have a negative motivation, does that make our anger towards them okay? Does that make our anger justified? Is that a good reason to be mad at somebody? Does that entitle us to be angry? When you think about it, it’s really rather strange, isn’t it? Yes?
Audience 1: I’m thinking even on a real conventional level, like about George Bush or that person that you’re talking about, it doesn’t work to not have the empathy. It doesn’t work. I’m thinking about myself and my friends who just go on and on about George Bush. We go on and on and it hasn’t done a thing except waste our time and make us unhappy. We walk away from these talks just discouraged and scared and mad. I’ve been watching this more and more and backing off from it. But we’re just so drawn to make things so solid; and spin around the same things over and over—again in this fear and anger. And it doesn’t even work on a conventional level. It hasn’t changed George Bush at all. It hasn’t helped one single being.
Audience 2: It does help you not do anything about it. Like, “He’s just so big and powerful and you know, has these great magical powers to do evil and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.”
Audience 2: For me, um, I’ll talk about anger for a minute. For me, my experience with anger is like having a short bout with the flu. If I feel anger, I feel terrible. I just feel so angry and I hate this feeling and I just want it to be over. And really the worst part about it is exactly what you said, which is the moment the anger starts, I’m attributing evil intentions to the other being, and then when I realize how stupid how that really is, I feel really bad. When I feel angry, it really physically feels like the flu to me. When I observe the feeling of anger, rather than just having it, but observe it, it feels like the flu. My stomach gets upset. My body aches. And then to realize that I can’t even justify it, it’s just like, “I really can’t do this!” But it doesn’t go away instantaneously. It’s like it has to steep away, you have to wait for it.
VTC: I think the more you practice then the quicker you’re able to let it go. But yes, it is like having the flu.
Audience 3: You know how you say that you can’t do anything about it? Was it you that made the dedication for George Bush last night?
VTC: Yes, so that’s a way to do something about it. Okay, so let’s sit quietly for a couple of minutes and absorb all this.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.